The most painful offensive series of Miami’s 2011 season still seeps through the psyche of coach Al Golden and his veteran players as they travel to No. 21 Kansas State on Saturday to play the Wildcats for the second time in as many years.
It was Sept. 24, 2011, at Sun Life Stadium, and the Hurricanes — down 28-24 to the Wildcats with less than two minutes left — had the ball at first-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Quarterback Jacory Harris threw a pass into the flat to tight end Clive Walford. The ball came in low and a bit underthrown, but it seemed catchable. Walford couldn’t hold on to it.
On second-and-goal from the 2, tailback Mike James rushed for 1 yard. On third-and-goal from the 1, James was swarmed by the Kansas State defense for no gain.
On fourth-and-goal, with 57 seconds left, Harris lunged toward the goal line. At first it was called a touchdown, but an official review clearly showed Harris’ knee was down at the 1, and Kansas State soon had its victory.
“It stuck with us all year,” said Golden, whose Hurricanes (1-0) this time will play the Wildcats (1-0) in Manhattan, Kan. “What can you say? We finished the year converting 14 of 15 goal-to-go situations and that was the one.
“Give them a lot of credit. They fought to the end. Their guys stepped up and made plays on the 2-yard line in succession and they earned the right to win that game. We didn’t execute. They did.”
The Wildcats, who defeated Missouri State 51-9 last weekend in their opener, finished 10-3 last season. They went 8-1 in games decided by one touchdown or less — “the most amassed by a team from the Football Bowl Subdivision in more than a decade,” according to The Associated Press.
The Hurricanes, who defeated Boston College 41-32 last weekend, had the opposite story. Each of Miami’s six losses in 2011 was by eight points or fewer.
“It was heartbreaking,” said UM guard Jon Feliciano, who played right tackle that game and said the line worked all offseason “staying lower and making it a point to make [fourth-and-goal on short yardages].
“During the offseason we used that as motivation. When we needed extra push we’d think about that. It makes us angry.”
Said offensive line coach Art Kehoe: “I’m sure if you’re Kansas State you’re saying, ‘We took four shots and slapped them around and [they] got outtoughed.’ … I’m just saying that was a real miserable time in our lives.”
KSU coach Bill Snyder said this week that it was “good fortune,” and of course, talent, that put his team on top last year.
“Good fortune is a dynamic that people overlook but is vital and necessary in the outcome of athletic contests,” Snyder said. “I thought we played extremely well in that last four-down series. … We played with heart and passion and all that goes along with it. Yes, I do remember it very much.”
Back for UM are Walford and James and the other lineman in the game for that final series — guard Brandon Linder. Also back is former Cane Arthur Brown, now one of the best linebackers in the nation for KSU.
“That established who we were as a defense,” Brown said this week. “It really helped build our confidence. … I really think that was the defining moment not only for that time, or for that game, but for the whole season.”
On the run
Miami will have to contend with more than just a stout KSU defense. Quarterback Collin Klein ran all over UM last season with 93 yards and a touchdown — and passed for 133 yards and two touchdowns. In 2011, he set the school record and tied both the Big 12 overall and FBS quarterback record with 27 rushing touchdowns.
The Hurricanes’ task has become tougher because UM confirmed Friday that 6-3, 290-pound defensive tackle Luther Robinson, a redshirt junior, will not make the trip to KSU for disciplinary reasons. The Canes already are missing veteran tackle Curtis Porter, who reportedly had an appendectomy before the opener.
Golden called this game a “Herculean challenge.”
Like Golden, James has that goal-line stand firm in his memory. He’s looking forward to another opportunity.
“If you don’t study the past,” James said, “you’re doomed to repeat it. I’d kill to be in that situation again.”